Is “Othering” our greatest sin?

I am writing from rural Minnesota, and here in the U.S. there are quite a few “political” debates worth weighing in on, if you are a pastor.  As usual, right? The U.S. is at odds with itself.  On one channel, there are the ironic fights that pair Juneteenth support with Critical Race Theory criticism.  Flip to the next channel, and there is the fiery debate over Communion, the oversight of the Catholic Bishops, and whether President Biden’s political views on abortion exclude him from the Catholic table of grace.  Flip again, and you see the debate on Voting Rights, with some arguing that voters who are “political nobodies” should not have to be bothered. Whew. We are a mess.

And as I have tried to decide which of these issues might be the most weighty to give a pastoral perspective on this week, I have noticed a commonality emerge: each issue highlight how people are being “othered” and once the “other” is created, it becomes all about control. It becomes about enacting rules to control the “other.”  In the case of voting rights: wealthy elites argued that common voters should not be given the right to govern-through-election, that this responsibility should be reserved for those who are more qualified (read as: wealthy).  “Othering” the poor and trying to remove their rights to democracy.  In the case of Communion, Catholic bishops argued that the grace found in the sacrament of Communion should only be granted if it is inline with certain Catholic doctrine. “Othering” those who – through thought or circumstance – might not align to their set of rules.  And critics of Critical Race Theory do not want the stories of others to be teachable history or common knowledge.     

Eckhart Tolle has said that “the ego like to emphasize the otherness of others,” And it is true, for ego is at the root of racism, colonialism, and tribalism; those systems that “other” people for status, profit, and privilege. Perhaps it is “othering” itself that is our greatest sin, for it is living in the fear of the other that births systems of control, exploitation, and oppression.   As Christians we are called to live by something other than ego.  We are called to put Christ at the center of our lives, and in doing do, to let go of ego and its tendencies to “other.” All of Christ’s teaching, whether it be to love neighbor, welcome stranger, or do unto others… all of them leads us towards drawing the circle wider – to breaking down the divides that keep people marginalized as outsiders.  As followers of Jesus, we are called not only to see the other, but to recognize Christ within them.

If we could sit at table together, I would love to hear your stories around the question: what kind of “othering” is happening in your church, community, or city? How is fear of the other affecting your part of the world?  I believe it would make for lively discussion for it happens in big and small ways everywhere. 

For me personally, I am struggling with a group of rural soccer parents who are protesting being forced to play “urban” teams in our city (Minneapolis) that is about half an hour away.  In their fear of “crime-ridden, riot-infested” urban areas they have “othered” the teams that play within the city’s limits.  The urban/rural fear divide is real, and that makes me sad, because the last thing that needs fear and division is middle school soccer.  If we can “other” that, we have truly lost our love of neighbor.

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Rev. Cathy M. Kolwey is a writer, artist, and pastor who works at the intersection of theology, culture, and the arts. She is the Associate Pastor for Spiritual Formation at Colonial Church in Edina, MN. She blogs at http://www.cmkolwey.com

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